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Treating People with Dignity

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:26pm | by monicadear

 

I am a natural "helper" type, which means I find a lot of positive reinforcement from participating in volunteer events, working with charities, supporting non-profit and community-based organizations, and offering services at a pro-bono rate. There are some good aspects of this (community-building, enthusiastic, good organizer) and there are some bad aspects of this (guilt, prioritizing time, understanding what's important). That said, in my years of volunteer work, I do find a few things to be very important to understand:
 
1) No one is better or worse than anyone else. The minute we start to think we're "better off" or "worse off" than someone else, we lose a fundamental understanding of self-respect and respect for others. There is no comparison. You compare against your own self: are you fulfilling your potential? are you having a challenging time? Other people are not your marker for your own feeling of success or failure.
 
2) Get off the high horse. When we think that we can come in, as an outsider, with our own solution to a potential problem, we put less emphasis on locally-generated solutions, also known as change that "come from within" -- it's good to foster ideas and discussion from many sources, but ultimately, any lasting solution will be locally-based. People only take ownership and make a commitment to the ideas they believe in. Ask anyone trying to make a wide scale behavior change: if people really don't want to do something, it won't get done. If people really want to do something, it will get done.
 
3) Be aware of your own filters. TOMS Shoes has a current campaign that encourages people in North America to walk around barefoot, to pull attention to the fact that many children in the world don't wear shoes. The point of the campaign is to encourage consumers to buy TOMS Shoes -- the company then makes a donation (of one of their own pairs of shoes) to a child in another part of the world. 
 
GoodIntents.org in "A Day Without Dignity" invites you to consider the long-term effects of this kind of advertising campaign such as:
 
a) there are already shoe-sellers in other parts of the world, and a glut of foreign  donations may lower their ability to sell their own products;
 
b) shoe-makers may need training --- consider offering job training to support the local economy instead of dumping our stuff on them; or 
 
c) believe it or not, a lot of people don't need to wear shoes --- shoes are not always a priority
 
My own children doesn't wear shoes half of the time, and we have plenty to eat, a roof over our heads, and ongoing work. 
 
Do people really need shoes? Or do they need other kinds of help?
 
Do you really want to make a difference? Taking off your shoes for a day or buying stuff from a corporation may not be a lasting solution -- it may be just a publicity stunt or a band-aid solution.
 
During the Haiti earthquake and Indonesia tsunami relief efforts: many thousands of people, and even hundreds of well-known corporations, decided to donate things that ended up as problems (infant formula, mislabeled and expired medications, expensive camping gear, old ratty clothes and broken kitchen appliances).
 
When you're "helping" someone, be aware of what you're doing. Are you actually enabling a victim mentality? Are you putting your own sense of self over someone else's needs? Are you being self-righteous? Are you thinking someone else needs something, when they themselves don't think they need it? Are you thinking you have the right solution, instead of asking someone local what they would like to do?
 
Just be aware. Treat others with respect and dignity. Understand solutions from their own level. Contribute to in-country or community-based solutions. 
 
Don't just dump your stuff, or participate in something bizarre, and assume you're making a difference for anyone else except yourself.

 

 

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/eschipul/1439949413/sizes/m/in/photostream/

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